Netanyahu: Israel Will Fight Racism - Ethiopian Israelis Are Israelis in Every Way

In address to Knesset marking Herzl Day, premier say police have been instructed to change the situation, says arbitrary violence will be uprooted.

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu Olivier Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday in an address to Knesset that the government of Israel was determined to change the situation on the ground for the Ethiopian Israeli community, following days of violent protests over claims of racism and police brutality.

"The Israel Police is determined to change the situation on all ends," he said, at a ceremony marking the birthday of Zionist founding father Theodor Herzl. "The orders have been given to those in the field, and I have no doubt that we will succeed. We all understand the need for this and the value of it. I promised that we would deal with these troubles. We will uproot from within us this arbitrary violence."

"We will fight with all our might against this phenomenon of racism and discrimination," he said. "If we thought we were dealing with the problem sufficiently, the events of the last days teach us that there is a deeper problem that requires more resources and more attention. Israelis of Ethiopian origin are Israelis in every way." 

Earlier Monday, President Reuven Rivlin said Israel must look upon the "open and bloody wound" which the protests in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem revealed. He made the comments during a meeting with the local leaders from Israel's ultra-Orthodox community.

"I cannot ignore the disturbing images we witnessed last night and Saturday evening. We cannot ignore the pain, distress and rage voiced by Israelis of Ethiopian origin, the majority of who were born and raised here," the president said.

"Protesters in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv revealed an open and bloody wound in the heart of Israeli society. This is a wound of a community sounding the alarm at what they feel is discrimination, racism and disregard of their needs. We must take a good hard look at this wound.

"We've erred. We have failed to see and listen enough. Among those protesting in the streets, there can be found the best of our boys and girls, excellent students and former soldiers. We must give them answers."

Also Monday, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky said the protesters' goals were "worthy and legitimate," but called for respect for law and order.

"At this time, as painful cries of protest rise up against discrimination and exclusion targeting Israelis of Ethiopian origin, we must all listen carefully, help foster a more constructive discourse, and mobilize to improve the situation in a real and tangible way," Sharansky said in a statement. "I call on the protesters to exercise good judgment and moderation, to respect the law and public order, and to utilize the societal conversation that has been started to achieve their worthy and legitimate goals using the democratic tools at our disposal."

Sharansky also said he was "deeply shocked" by the police assault of an Israeli soldier of Ethiopian origin, which was captured on video and sparked the protests.